Who's got the biggest house?

15BiltmoreHere is a newspaper headline from last week: “A ‘palace’ in NC: One of the state’s largest homes is for sale.”

Must be the Biltmore House in Asheville, I thought. Then I kept reading. No, the 16,000-square-foot home in the headlines is in Rougemont, a high-end Durham suburb. You can buy it for $6.95 million.

But if you owned it, you would not come close to having one of the largest houses. Just for comparison’s sake, the White House has 50,000 square feet. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago has 62,500. Whitehall, the Palm Beach house Henry Flagler built for his North Carolina bride, Mary Lily Kenan, is 60,000.

Another large North Carolina-connected house, Duke Farms, built in New Jersey by James B. Duke, had 58,000, until it was taken down in 2016.

But if you are still thinking Asheville’s Biltmore House, you have the right idea. With a reported area of 175,000 square feet, it is by far the largest privately owned house in the United States.

It is also one of the country’s most visited attractions.The mansion with 250 rooms is packed full of art, antiques, architecture, books, collections of vintage clothing and other accessories representative of the Gilded Age. The house is part of an 8,000-acre compound containing expansive gardens and landscapes, the first managed forest in the country, a deer park, miles of level paths and walking trails, a section of the French Broad River and a winery that enjoys a growing reputation.

On a typical day, thousands of visitors pay up to $75 for a one-time visit to the attractions. If it sounds expensive, it is really a bargain compared to a trip to France to see something comparable.

How did this world-class attraction come to be in North Carolina?

In her latest book, “The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home,” Denise Kiernan tells the story of how and why the Biltmore House was built and how its gradual transformation to a high-class tourist attraction made its survival possible.

In 1888, George Washington Vanderbilt, a young wealthy bachelor, and his mother came to Asheville to take advantage of the healthy mountain air. On horseback rides around the surrounding mountains and forest, George was enthralled. Through agents, he began the secret and systematic purchase of thousands and the tens of thousands of forest and farm lands. Ultimately, more than 100,000 of these acres became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forrest.

George also decided to build a home for himself and his mom. The idea began modestly, but after a trip to the Loire Valley in France with the famed architect Richard Morris Hunt, plans expanded. The designer of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, was brought on to design the landscape, and Gifford Pinchot agreed to plan for the massive forests.

The house opened in 1895. Kiernan told merecently that it might have been simply a 275-room “man-cave” for the then aging George. In 1898 he married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, and in 1900 their daughter, Cornelia, was born at Biltmore.

In Kiernan’s opinion, Edith is the great hero of the Biltmore story. When George died in 1914, financial challenges had surrounded the Biltmore operation. Edith took the lead. She secured and followed expert advice that required painful cutbacks and sales of beloved projects. Later, she arranged for the sale of most of the forest properties.

In 1924, Cornelia married British diplomat John Cecil. Although their marriage did not last, their sons, William and George, and their families took charge of the aging castle. They developed a sustainable and profitable business model that assures our state will have our country’s largest privately owned house for many years to come.

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Fayetteville Symphony Youth Orchestra presents Spring Concert

12FYSOThe Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra presents the Fayetteville Symphony Youth Orchestra’s Spring Concert Sunday, May 20, at 4 p.m. at Fayetteville Academy.

“The purpose of this group is to give kids another opportunity to play; they are not incompetition with anybody,” said Dr. Larry Wells, music director of the FSYO. “This concert will feature all three of our ensembles: a concert band, a string ensemble and the full orchestra.”

Wells added that one of the things he loves about this group is they don’t do many arrangements and they do the real versions of the compositions.

“Some of the pieces are quite difficult and the students are learning how to manage professional music situations, so it is not watered down,” said Wells. “The full orchestra is doing the real version of John William’s movie music to ‘Jurassic Park,’ which is fantastic.” Wells added all of the groups are playing tough pieces, and it should be a great concert.

The FSYO is now accepting applications for the 2018-19 school year. Registration deadline is Friday, Aug. 31. The orchestra is for students ages 13-21 in public, private or home-school, who have experience playing the violin, viola, cello, double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, French horn, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba orpercussion.

An advanced summer music camp will take place June 25-29 from 9 a.m.– 2 Fayetteville Academy. It is suited for advanced players. In addition to the age requirement, the student must be able to play a two-octave chromatic scale and know at least five of the 12 major scales on their instrument and/or the student must have been participating in the FSYO for at least one year. The registration deadline is June 8.

“We don’t turn anybody away and we will find a home for you,” said Wells. “We invite everyone to come out to the concert and see what the students have learned.”

The concert is free and open to the public. For more information about your child’s opportunity to be a part of the FSYO, call 910-433-4690 or visit the website at

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'Crowns' wraps up CFRT season with 'hattitude'

08CrownsCape Fear Regional Theatre will wrap up the season with “Crowns,” a gospel musical, May17–June 3. The show, written by Regina Taylor, is adapted from the book “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats” by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry.

The book is a collection of photographs and oral histories of African-American women in their Sunday best, which includes elaborate head gear, a cherished custom prevalent in the South among many religious denominations.

The musical weaves many of those stories into characters who offer support and encouragement to each other, said CFRT artistic director Mary Kate Burke. “It’s really a collection of stories about acommunity,” she explained.

Yolanda, an African-American, struggles with grief after the death of her brother. She goes down South to live with Mother Shaw, her grandmother. Mother Shaw introduces Yolanda to her circle of “hat queens.”

The “hat queens” embrace the younger woman and take her under their wings, said Cassandra Williams, who plays Mother Shaw. Each hat they wear has a story of a wedding, a funeral, a baptism. The women share stories of how they’ve managed life’s struggles. As a community, they help Yolanda deal with the loss of her brother and find her own identity.

“It shows African-American culture, but any group of women can identify with the story,” Williams said. “The whole play is cathartic.”

“And it’s funny,” said Burke, adding that these characters deliver a good bit of “hattitude.”

“There is a different hat for every occasion,” Williams said, “and you are introduced to different characters vis-à-vis the different hats they wear.”

Williams explained that “hat queens” are those women who can wear any kind of hat. “A regality comes with it and you feel like a queen – you know that you look good.”

With that regality and confidence comes a broader message, said La’Tonya Wiley, who plays Mabel in the show.

“We call them her crowns,” Wiley said. “It celebrates the power of a woman; it celebrates womanhood and femininity.” She added that the show allows men to see the complexity of women – just as there are layers and many parts to a hat, there are layers to women.

The show will appeal to men as well as women, said Burke. “It is a celebration of womanhood, but not at the cost of men,” she said. “It has such a generous spirit.”

“Crowns” is directed by Donna Bradby (“The Wiz”). The songs are traditional gospel, with some blues and jazz. Featured songs include “Ain’t That Good News,” “Marching to Zion,” “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” and “Wade in the Water.”

Joining Williams and Wiley in the cast are Ariel Blake as Yolanda, Sha’air Hawkins, Janeta Jackson, Chasity McIntosh and Walter Johnson.

Tickets for “Crowns” range from $17-$32, with discounts and group sales available. Special events for the musical’s run include Preview Nights May 17 and 18; Opening Night Celebration with the cast and creative team May 19; and Military Appreciation Night May 23.

There will be a Tea and Chat with milliner Barbara Wood on May 20 at 5 p.m. with a hands-on demonstration of making a pillbox hat. The catered event is free but seating is limited, so register by contacting the box office at 910-323-4233 or This event is sponsored by the Fayetteville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

For more information about the show or special events, contact the box office at 910-323-4233 or visit

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Celebrate the arts at 4th Friday

10Public Works Call Home Hero copyOn May 25, Cool Spring Downtown District will host 4th Friday, Fayetteville’s monthly exhibitionof art and culture, in conjunction with E. E. Smith High School. This month’s theme is high school reunion.“

A joyful time, to be sure,” said Janet Gibson of 4th Friday, director of marketing and communications of the Arts Council of Fayetteville and Cumberland County. “Unique stores and restaurants are a buzz with activity. The streets are often filled with music and dance. Art is everywhere to be found.”

One of the highlights of the event will be the opening of the annual art exhibition called “Public Works,” sponsored by Fayetteville PublicWorks Commission. This will be the thirteenth annual exhibition.

“For the people and by the people, anyone can enter,” Gibson said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re three or 93, you can enter. If you’re into painting or photography, you can enter.” The only rule for submission is that you must live in Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson or Scotland County, Fort Bragg or Pope Army Air Field.

This time-honored exhibit is something the community looks forward to every year and is a celebration of the many talented artists in the area.The art will be displayed within the art center gallery. “It will look like almost every square inch of the gallery will be filled with art,” Gibson said. There will be a people’s choice winner, which will be voted for online.

The Arts Council is one of many places to visit during 4th Friday.

There will also be a show of songs and stories from the ’50s to the ’80s at Headquarters Library, presented by The Parsons folk group from 7 to 9 p.m.

A third highlight of the event will include arts and crafts with Fascinate-U Children’s Museum, where children can create spoon maracas out of recycled plastic eggs and explore the museum. Fascinate-U Children’s Museum will have free entry for the event.

Additional exhibits include several art and history installations, such as displays at the Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum and the Cape Fear Studios Members’ Anniversary Exhibit.

Gibson described 4th Friday as a celebration of the community. “You can feel the energy; it’s a great time to celebrate the arts, visual and performing, and it’s really heating up with spring and summer,” she said. “People get off work on Friday, they come down, they bring their families, and it’s a joyful celebration of everything we have down here.”

Visit or or search for Fourth Friday Fayetteville on Facebook for more information.

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Embracing 'Natural Embrace'

08Natural Embrace photoThe city of Fayetteville, through the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County, currently has several sculptures on display in various locations downtown.The complete exhibit is titled “Work in Progress.” The public art exhibit began two years ago with 11 sculptures. Because the sculptures are leased for 11 months, the current exhibit is the second rendition and is properly titled “Work in Progress 2.” There are now 17 sculptures on display. Private donors matched with Arts Council funding helps make them available to the Fayetteville community.The Arts Council is aiming to make one of them permanent.

The sculptures are distributed strategically to encourage visitors and residents alike to explore the downtown district. City leaders across the state have been inquiring into Fayetteville’s “Work in Progress” Art Exhibit to learn how they could also implement such an exhibit in their cities. Various groups, including one home school group of 50 students, have requested tours to view the sculptures and learn about the artists and meaning behind the art. The city’s new mobile app offers self-guided tours using an interactive map that shows where to find the sculptures. It’s available for both Android and iPhone and is free.

One sculpture in the exhibit has captured the hearts of many in the community. The public artwork is called “Natural Embrace” by sculptor Paul Hill. It is located at Person Street Plaza across from the Cumberland County Courthouse. The sculpture, made of metal, depicts a spiraling Venus fly trap. In a community wide survey, “Natural Embrace” was voted the favorite out of the 15 works of public art that were installed over the course of the year. There is currently a drive to raise funds to purchase it and make it permanent so it can be enjoyed for generations to come.

The price for Fayetteville to purchase the sculpture is $40,000. The Arts Council’s goal is to raise $20,000 through fundraising efforts, and then it will contribute up to $20,000 in matching funds. Donations have ranged from $1 from a young child to over $2,000 from a resident committed to the arts. So far, $17,752 has been raised. Janet Gibson, director of marketing and communications for the Arts Council, has no doubt the Arts Council will meet the goal by the deadline. “Thanks to the generosity of community donations, I am confident ‘Natural Embrace’ will be a permanent fixture in downtown Fayetteville,” she said.

If purchased, “Natural Embrace” will be the third permanent sculpture placed by the Arts Council in downtown Fayetteville. The sculptures “Tree of Good and Evil” and “Dancer” were both donations. Eric Lindstrom and Kennon Jackson donated the former and Dr. and Mrs. Patrick Callahan donated the latter.

Gibson explain that in the unlikely event that the Arts Council falls short of its goal of $20,000 to put toward purchasing “Natural Embrace,” the sculpture would move on to another city in September and donations would be returned. Donors would also be given an opportunityto repurpose their donations to the Art Council.

Learn more about the project at


PHOTO: “Natural Embrace” is located at Person Street Plaza across from the Cumberland County Courthouse.

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